Jitters for the rich.

Author:Davies, Desmond
Position::AROUND AFRICA: WEST AFRICA
 
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Nigerian property owners in the UK face nervous times as the government demands to know the source of funds; Liberia's Johnson Sirleaf wins the Ibrahim Prize but not everybody is pleased; and in the Gambia, the police faced a rude awakening. West African round-up by Desmond Davies.

Nigeria

Nigerians who own property in the UK are jittery. They have been busy trying to ensure that their assets are properly registered following the recent coming into force of Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs). The UWOs are a new tool by British law enforcement agencies to fight organised crime and corruption.

What this means is that if there is a shadow of a doubt over how someone acquired a property in the UK, the authorities can use UWOs to get the owner to provide a statement to explain how he came about the funds to buy the property. The threshold is 50,000 [pounds sterling] (N25m).

So, when Nigerian property owners in the UK heard of the UWOs, they bombarded Nigeria's Ministry of Finance's Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) with calls, causing the lines to crash, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

VAIDS came into effect last year and is meant to give tax defaulters time to regularise their tax status without incurring a fine. The Nigerian government is hoping to raise an extra $1bn from VAIDS.

Nigerians who own property in the UK have been asking for time to fill out their VAIDS forms in order to protect their assets. Of course, UWOs are not just there to target Nigerians. They are also aimed at Russians who have used the UK to launder money. Figures reveal that some 90bn [pounds sterling] was laundered in the UK last year, and the British government wants to halt this.

Nigerians have owned property and kept their money in the UK for ages. But many have done so legally. A source at the VAIDS office told NAN: "Most calls are from high net worth individuals, such as bankers and even a governor. All seem to be in a panic over the prospect of losing their investments."

They added that most callers wanted some assurance that VAIDS would protect their UK assets.

Over the years, various Nigerian governments have had running battles with the British authorities over the recovery of stolen funds from Nigeria that were lodged in UK banks. Pressure from transparency watchdogs has finally forced the UK government to act against money launderers, who previously had a field day in cleaning their ill-gotten gains.

Charlotte Wright, an...

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